Dancer Spotlight

Julian MacKay: From Montana to the Mikhailovsky—and Beyond

Photo by Gregory Bartadon via Instagram

Julian MacKay was born to be a pioneer. Growing up amid bison and hot springs in Montana, he developed a sense of adventure that came in handy when, at age 11, he entered the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow.

"It was this guinea-pig experiment," the Bozeman native remembers. "No American had ever gone so young." In 2015 he became the first American to graduate from the school with a full Russian diploma, having completed the lower and upper ballet division—at the top of his class—and passed all his academics in Russian, which he had learned to speak fluently within his first year.

Then in May 2016, MacKay became the youngest-ever soloist at the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. He soon debuted as the slave in Le Corsaire, the Bronze Idol in La Bayadère and James in La Sylphide, roles that showcased his clean technique and lofty jumps.


"I've had the opportunity to do so much, so quickly," says the appreciative MacKay, who at 19 feels a keen urgency. "The career is quite short. If you have things you want to achieve, you have to go for them as soon as possible."

MacKay got an early start in ballet, alongside his younger brother, Nicholas MacKay, and older sisters, Maria Sascha Khan and Nadia Khan, all of whom were dance-obsessed since childhood. MacKay received his early training in Montana, and following a bronze-medal win at Youth America Grand Prix, Bolshoi Academy teachers invited him to join the school. Before he went, he moved to San Diego to study with former Bolshoi dancer Maxim Tchernychev.

Photo by Stas Levshin

Russia was an opportunity MacKay couldn't pass up, daunting as it was to move halfway around the world to begin six years of extremely intense training. "I went through army boot-camp schooling," he says of the six-days-per-week program, which ranged from rigorous ballet technique to the Stanislavsky acting method.

MacKay's training helped him to win medals in Sochi, Istanbul, Paris and Beijing. The 2015 Prix de Lausanne, where he earned an apprentice scholarship to The Royal Ballet, helped define his goals. He took the apprenticeship, but as much as he admired the company and artistic director Kevin O'Hare, MacKay was not content in the corps.

At an audition in Hungary, Mikhailovsky director Mikhail Messerer offered MacKay a soloist position. MacKay was thrilled to return to Russia, where he's pursuing a Russian Ballet Master graduate degree while dancing. He also had his choreographic premiere with a new version of The Little Humpbacked Horse, at the Four Seasons St.Petersburg. It starred Nicholas, Maria Sascha and Nadia—all four siblings are currently dancing and training overseas.

MacKay's path is leading in non-dance directions, too. His charismatic good looks landed him a modeling contract with IMG and a photo shoot with Kendall Jenner for the avant-garde fashion magazine LOVE.

"I feel like I've won so many lottery tickets," he says. Luck plays a part in any career, but MacKay is forging his own path with talent, training and that adventurous spirit. "You can do anything," he says, "if you aspire to it and really push for it."

Fun Facts:
Russian food craving: Kholodets. "It's basically pieces of meat in Jell-O. It's pretty crazy, but kinda good."

Dream destinations: Siberia ("I want to see what it's like") and the South of France ("I love the beaches!")

Puppy love: "I'm teaching my French bulldog puppy, Leo, how to skateboard." Follow Leo @theatre_ dog on Instagram.

Many of us take our ballet training for granted. But for dancers living in Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from the devastating affects of last month's Hurricane Maria, pursuing a ballet career or simply taking class must now feel insurmountable. What do you do when Mother Nature not only destroys your dance studio, but your home and the majority of the city you live in? Priorities must shift to those of basic survival.

Now, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School is trying to help six Puerto Rican dancers resume their training. The students, whose studio in San Juan was badly damaged, had recently attended SCBS's summer intensive. School directors Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez have started a fundraising effort called "Sarasota And Puerto Rico Dance Together" to temporarily relocate the dancers. While they can easily offer them scholarships, Serrano and Hernandez must raise an additional $36,000 to provide housing, food and living expenses for one year. (SCBS has a dormitory for female students, but not for male students.)

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Alexei Ratmansky with members of the corps de ballet. Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy American Ballet Theatre.

When the choreographer Alexei Ratmansky joined American Ballet Theatre as artist in residence eight years ago, the company hadn't had a house choreographer since the days of Antony Tudor. The gamble seems to have paid off handsomely. In that time Ratmansky has either made or restaged 12 ballets for the company. In 2011, the company extended his contract to 2023. Such commitments are practically unheard of at a time when top dancers and choreographers hop from company to company, continent to continent. The scale and ambition of the works Ratmansky is making for ABT is a rarity too, in a world of tight budgets, scant rehearsal time and pared-down esthetics.


Set design for new "Harlequinade." Courtesy ABT.

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Houston Ballet's Jared Matthews and Sara Webb in"The Sleeping Beauty." Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

Despite the devastation and pain that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have left in their wake this fall, it's been encouraging to see dancers step up in aid of their communities: When the future of Houston Ballet's Nutcracker seemed uncertain, venues around the city pulled together to allow the company to produce the show on a "hometown tour." And when Florida ballet companies had to evacuate, Atlanta Ballet and Charlotte Ballet welcomed them with open arms. In addition, New York City-based studio Broadway Dance Center offered community classes in September with proceeds donated to the American Red Cross.

The next in this series of good deeds is Hearts for Houston, a benefit performance bringing dancers from seven major companies together at New York City's Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater to raise money for the United Way of Greater Houston's Harvey Relief Fund. Scheduled for Sunday, October 22, the evening will feature members of the Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Texas Ballet Theater, The Washington Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Hearts for Houston is imagined and produced by Houston Ballet principal dancers Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews (both formerly of ABT) and funded by patrons Phoebe and Bobby Tudor and sponsor Neiman Marcus.


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Catherine Conley. Photo by Alex Garcia.

When I was 4 or 5, I told my mom, "I want to go to a real dance school with barres and a mirror." My preschool recommended Chicago's Ruth Page Center for the Arts. That's where I trained until I left for Cuba a year ago. I went to regular school during the day, and then had ballet class for four or more hours per day during the evenings and weekends. Nobody in my family has a dance background, but they've been supportive through all of it.

My school in Chicago teaches a technique that draws on Vaganova, Cecchetti and Bournonville. I went to very different summer intensives, as well: American Ballet Theatre, the Royal Ballet School in London and Boston Ballet. Then, two summers ago, Ruth Page School of Dance director Victor Alexander, who is Cuban, arranged an exchange with the Cuban National Ballet School. A group of eight Cubans came to Ruth Page's summer intensive. I had to learn an entire pas de deux as well as a contemporary ballet piece in 10 days, and then perform them. I'd never had to do anything that quickly; it was hard work but exciting. I then realized that if I could dance professionally, I wanted to.


Conley in class at the Cuban National Ballet School. Photo by Alex Garcia.

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Pointe Stars
Photo by Paul Kolnik, via Instagram

Zachary Catazaro is ending his New York City Ballet Fall 2017 season on a high note. NYCB's ballet master in chief, Peter Martins, announced Catazaro's promotion from soloist to principal on Oct. 12th, just before the company's evening performance.

Catazaro had a stand out season, making his debut as Prince Siegfried alongside principal Sterling Hyltin's Odette/Odile in Martins' Swan Lake. He also debuted in featured roles in Martins' The Red Violin and Jerome Robbins' In Memory Of... as well as George Balanchine's La Valse.

Catazaro, originally from Canton, Ohio, joined the company as an apprentice in 2007, and has quickly moved through the ranks.

Principal dancer Rebecca Krohn retired from the stage earlier in the season, and Robbie Fairchild is set to give his farewell performance with NYCB this coming weekend, so we can't wait to see Catazaro tackle his new rank (and the feature debuts that come along with it) in the coming seasons.

Training
Eleanor Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy RAD.

"When I compete, I'm the type to get nervous and shaky," says 19-year-old Eleanor Rodriguez. Growing up, the Phoenix, Arizona native had competed in figure skating and archery, but last month she got her first taste competing in the ballet world when she traveled to Lisbon, Portugal for the Royal Academy of Dance's Genée International Ballet Competition. Rodriguez, who has been most recently studying at the Russian-based Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, trained mainly in the RAD style under Mary Mo Adams. "I've been working in the curriculum my whole life, and the Genée is the height of that experience."

Rodriguez was also the only American participant, adding to the pressure. "I definitely feel like I have to represent," she said a few days before leaving for the competition. "But I've been training really hard. I'm as ready as I can be." She prepared two solos ahead of time—the second Shades variation from La Bayadère and a "Dancer's Choice" neoclassical solo choreographed by her Master Ballet Academy teacher Albert Cattafi. Once in Lisbon, Rodriguez enjoyed four intense days leading up to the semi-finals that included classes, coaching sessions with RAD faculty and learning another solo created especially for the Genée by Portuguese choreographer César Augusto Moniz.


Photo by Ed Flores, Courtesy RAD.

While Rodriguez, who joins Ballet Arizona's Studio Company this fall, did not make it to the final round, she felt the experience was well worth it. "I loved receiving coaching and having an opportunity to perform." We asked her to share how she stayed calm and maintained perspective during the competition, below.

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Herman Cornejo in "La Bayadere." Photo by Gene Schiavone, Courtesy American Ballet Theatre.

A double tour, says American Ballet Theatre principal Herman Cornejo, "is the step that defines a male dancer." Here, he shares his thoughts on mastering this necessary trick.

Don't anticipate: "The takeoff is hard," Herman Cornejo acknowledges. "You want to take all your force around, and that twists your back to the side and your fifth out of place." Instead, the impulse for the rotations comes from the bottom of the plié. "Be calm to start. Prepare to a relevé, plié, and the moment the heels touch down, then you take the force."

Use your glutes: A common error Cornejo sees is "sticking your butt out and your chest forward in plié so that you're not on top of your hips. You'll never make it to the other side!" Your glutes, he adds, are "so powerful that when you engage them, it really makes a difference."


Cornejo in a double tour en l'air. Photo Courtesy Cornejo.

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